Unsolved Australia

09/01/2015 at 2:05 PM (Books) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I read Unsolved Australia by Justine Ford, once a reporter on Australia’s Most Wanted,  it reminded me of Cold Case, the television show because it is essentially a true crime book about unsolved homicides in different Australian states and territories and the reader is invited to become an armchair detective. While cases on television are wrapped up within an hour, in real life many unsolved investigations continue for years because up-and-coming scientific technologies and shifted loyalties with the passage of time is what provides the required breakthrough evidence to solve a case. This book features 18 chilling cases that are probably less heard of than the equally frightening stories of Daniel Morcombe or the Beaumont Children.


Source: Goodreads

The first unsolved case is that of the murder of Shane ‘Bones’ Barker, who was gunned down in Tasmania outside his house on August 2 2009. The most significant lead that was unearthed is about an unidentified man who Shane Barker was seen talking to outside his home on the morning he was murdered. Read more here.

The second chapter covers the case of Daniel O’Keefe who had gone missing from his parents house in Geelong on July 15 2011. His sister Loren has devoted her time to getting the message out to remote corners of  Australia and in the mean time founded the Missing Persons Advocacy Network to assist others facing a similar situation. Read more here.

The third case is the tragic story of street worker Elaine ‘Beverley’ King who ended up murdered in Room 96 at the Burlington Hotel on July 11 1974. It had been very difficult at the time to obtain evidence due to public drunkenness and while the case is being looked into now, it has become difficult now because exhibits are hard to find, witnesses have since passed on and leads are no longer fresh. No one still has been arrested for Ms King’s murder that occurred in Sydney. Read more here.

Chapter four is about the shooting of Brewarrina bush schoolteacher Bjarne Carlsen who was branded with the words KKK on his chest. A gunshot was heard by a local on January 25 2000, and on spotting a man wearing a white pillowcase with the eyes and mouth cut out climbing though the fence, fled in fear for his life. While the gun had not been recovered when the book was written, the police made a breakthrough using handwriting analysis and are convinced the murderer is a local. Read more here.

The fifth case is about the disappearance of a young mum from the coastal town of Burnie, Helen Munnings, who had told her mother she was going to the doctor for a pap smear but in reality was meeting her love interest Adam Taylor, father of her son Donovan and during the time, the de facto partner of Karalina Garwood. Karel Munnings is convinced that Helen was killed and cannot move on until she finds out exactly what happened to her missing daughter even though the coroner stated no ruling could be made about how or why Helen died or whether any person contributed to the cause of her death. Read more here.

Case number six was about the child killer Derek Percy and the information discovered during the investigation into the case of abducted 7-year-old Linda Stilwell. The cases for which police suspected Derek Percy of involvement were: the vanishing and abduction of the Beaumont children; the Wanda Beach murders of Christine Sharrock and Marianne Schmidt; the murder of 3-year-old Simon Brook; the murder of Alan Redston and he was caught red-handed for the murder of Yvonne Tuohy for which he was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity. Unfortunately he chose to take some secrets to the grave. Read more here.

The seventh chapter was about the Rack Man who was pulled in by a fisherman while attached to a rusting metal crucifix. The manner in which the body was found makes one leap to the conclusion the victim may have been involved in organised crime but it is still a travesty of justice he still remains unidentified and his killer too. Read more here.

The next featured missing person, feared murdered was Sandrine Jourdan, mum of three children, who had been expecting an unnamed guest on the day she disappeared, July 13 2012. Sandrine struggled with depression and while the suicide probability was suspected, the arrival of bizarre correspondence to her family after she went missing suggests it was someone she knew who was responsible. Read more here.

Chapter 9 was the story of Marlene McDonald who had domestic problems with her estranged husband, John McDonald. While he was charged with the murder of his former wife who went missing on December 18 1986, unfortunately her body has not yet been recovered. Read more here.

The disappearance of Paul Stevenson who was last seen going for a motorbike ride on March 11 2012 apparently to the vicinity of Paradise Dam was the topic of the tenth case. His bike was found on the Mount Perry-Gin Gin Road but Paul was not. His family is still waiting for answers. Read more here.

As I kept reading, I was hit with the realisation there are so many sad missing persons cases, but these stories seem to have evaded attention after a few years. One such story was that of the stolen life of trusting country nanny, Penny Hill, found on July 8 1991 in a comatose state by local teacher, Sue Brown. Her death still remains unsolved although persons of interest were investigated. Read more here.

The most frightening story was that of the Northern Territory murder of Don Stevens and the sister who survived, welfare officer Noelene Stevens. It is the story of a colleague driven by jealousy to hold his workmate hostage in her own home, brutally murder her innocent brother and dispose of her pet dogs. While Matt Vanko is currently behind bars, Noelene is still finding it hard to let go of her torment. This was an odd story because the crime appeared to be wrapped up. Read more here.

The case right after it was chilling because it covered the murder of traveling salesman Nigel McAree who was found beheaded in Sydney’s beautiful Royal National Park,. The tranquil setting and the violence against the victim suggests a personal vendetta to me but the far more experienced Unsolved Homicide Team suspects that it could have been a thrill kill. The murderer in this case has still not been identified and the family longs for closure. Read more here.

The outback disappearance of Western Australian nursing student Brett McGillivray on April 10 2006 has led to the speculation of two fascinating theories: he got lost and perished in the scrub or he is still out there in a state of advanced confusion. The latter theory isn’t that implausible considering Brett left without his medication and he had previously undergone  psychotic episodes. It is also possible the bush search party failed to locate him but with no evidence of a body coming to surface the family awaits his return home. Read more here.

The fifteenth case was about the abduction of twin teenager Daniel Sheppard who went missing after family New Years Eve celebrations on January 1 1995. It hit close to home for Michael Sheppard when schoolboy Daniel Morcombe went missing while waiting for a bus. While the possibility of cult kidnappings have been explored, nothing solid came out of it to identify a perpetrator and secure a conviction. Read more here.

As he was in all intents and appearances a family man, the abduction and murder of Turkish Ali Sonmez, an invalid pensioner,  in a gangland-style killing and the odd discovery of his body dumped in the Darling river across a state border was nothing short of baffling. While it has been established his body was discarded from the New South Wales side, there is a paucity of evidence and even witnesses making it difficult to find people who would have wanted him dead. There are suspicions involving drug money or fruit trade rivalries but the killer is yet to be caught. Read more here.

The next case is that of skater boy Donny Govan, who, then 16, disappeared on August 31, 2012 from the Echuca camp site where he had been camping with his sister, Rachel O’Keane and four friends. Suddenly becoming paranoid about his camp mates and convinced they were out to get him, Donny ran off into thick bush. Although sightings of Donny have been reported in but not corroborated, Rachel persists in the belief he’s out there alive. Read more here.

The final chapter and case includes the double murder story of sweethearts Alex Rees and Ray Hill who met their tragic deaths during a romantic tryst on 2 January 1970 in a popular lovers’ lane. It was believed shots were fired through the open window of the driver’s door. Theories put forward about the culprit at the time explore if it were an opportunistic thrill killer or jealous ex-partner taking revenge or even a hospital employee/patient known to Alex through her job. Unfortunately no one has been yet able to prove who killed Alex and Ray. Read more here.

The writing in Unsolved Australia is fantastic and easy to read, the book is well researched and the forensic expert profiles were quite insightful. Some cases were going through court or were tied up, but most need to be brought back to front of peoples’ minds so new evidence can be found.

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Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language

10/30/2014 at 12:07 PM (Books) (, , , , , )


I’ve just been taken on an armchair tour on the history of English via Bill Bryson’s entertaining book Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language. I explored this genre a little bit when I wrote my post on the Gift of the Gob but this book goes into a lot more fun detail about the origins of English into its ultimate status as the world’s most spoken tongue. This book was published a while back so some of the notions do seem rather dated and erroneous as they seem to have been sourced from places you could not rely on as factual authorities. It is still an entertaining read.

Bryson first explores the ambiguities of English as understood by a foreigner. For example in English, one tells a lie but the truth, the sentence “I could care less” is equivalent to “I couldn’t care less” and the phrase “all items not on sale” means some items are on sale. He explains the intricacy of English by pointing out in the phrase ‘I went swimming’, swimming is a past participle while in the phrase ‘Swimming is good for you’, it is a gerund despite being the same word. He also goes into some detail about foreign words in other languages and I have found out that in Japanese the word for foreigner translates as ‘stinking of foreign hair’, Italians call syphilis ‘the French disease’ and con games get called ‘American swindles’ in France and Italy.

Next I found insight into how the possibility of speech evolved. The evolutionary change which pushed man’s larynx deeper into his throat brought about with it the possibility to communicate by talking. So this is why humans can talk and animals can’t. Then history of linguistics is given a mention by discussing the contributions of Sir William Jones, who discovered there were commonalities across languages despite geographic boundaries and proposed a theory that all classical languages derived from the same source. For example, brother is known as bruder in German, bhrathair in Gaelic, bhrata in Sanskrit and biradar in Persian. It may seem tenuous but I can see a connection.

The author then explains how language always has the same purpose but is achieved in multiple ways. When it comes to features of grammar and syntax, such as number, tense or gender, they can vary depending on the language. For example, the Japanese language doesn’t use plurals, in Russian nouns have twelve different inflections and Irish Gaelic lacks the words yes and no. Then he goes on to speak about cultures in which languages co-exist and how majority languages usually dominate in spite of careful measures taken to prevent minority languages from dying out.

I found the overview of how English developed in England under the language spoken by Anglo-Saxons quite informative and interesting such as the fact their pagan gods are preserved for antiquity in the names of our weekdays; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday stand for Tiv, Woden, Thor and Frig and Saturday, Sunday and Monday stand for Saturn, the sun and the moon. The English spoken changed after the invasion of the Vikings which meant a lot of Scandinavian terms became part and parcel of English. English language changed even more after the 1066 Norman conquest because their French origins resulted in the aristocracy speaking in French and while the peasants continued to speak in English.

Next comes an overview of the richness of the English vocabulary and the complexities of multiple synonyms, polysemy and contronyms. A Danish linguist said words were formed in four ways: adding to them, inventing them, removing from them and leaving them alone. The author suggests two more ways: making mistakes and borrowing from other languages.

The minor treatise in orthoepy lets readers know none of the letters in English can be relied on for consistency. The c in race, rack and rich are all pronounced differently or remain silent like the b in debt or the a in bread. Most words are not pronounced in the way it is spelled.

The discourse on dialects made me aware of something I did not know before.  Apparently one of the people quite interested in the study of dialects was J.R. R. Tolkien who later became famous as the author of The Hobbit. Dialects in England apparently function differently to the way dialects work in North America. It does not only need to distinguished by region or locality as there are occupational dialects, ethnic dialects and class dialects.

Have you ever wondered how the alphabet came into being? It has evolved from pictographs. People used pictographs to represent things but once they hit on the idea of using them to represent sound, the possibility of having an alphabet came into being. The two possible ways of rendering speech into writing is then discussed by outlining their pros and cons. Apparently English spelling is erratic because for a long time, people were indifferent to using consistent spelling because dialects prospered as there was no central authority for the English language. Things changed after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press and standardised spelling was achieved by 1650. At the very same time, the Great Vowel Shift was underway. People changed the way they pronounced vowels in vast groups of words, but the publishers weren’t cognisant of the changes. This is why the: ‘ea’ sounds different in knead, bread, wear and great. English lost the /k/ sound from /kn/ words, the /w/ from /wr/ words, and the /g/ from gnat and gnaw. By the time the change was complete, writing habits had been established.

Reviewers have been rather critical of some of the author’s errors so I guess go into reading this with an aware mind. However I do think some of the errors are oversights on the parts of the editor and proofreader as they haven’t done the job of checking facts for accuracy. It is a very light-hearted approach to English language discussion so I think this is worth looking only if you enjoy the way the author, Bill Bryson, writes.

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In Cold Blood

07/20/2014 at 9:01 AM (Books) (, , , , , )

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, about the murder of the farming Clutter family in Kansas, is thought to be the pioneer of the true crime genre and is the result of six years of work. Even before Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested for the crime, Truman Capote had gone to Kansas with fellow author Harper Lee to interview investigators and local residents in the area about it. The book delves deep into the relationship between the two parolees who commit this murder and the effect the crime had on the local community.

Clutter Home

I am not a big fan of non-fiction unless it is travel writing or memoir but this novel challenges my view of non-fiction being less interesting to read than fiction. The author has a mesmerising ability to weave factual content into suspenseful narrative prose without creating bias. I think the fact psychoanalysis was applied to the crime raised my interest bar. Nowadays true crime takes the mystery story approach with a revealing denouement but the objective style used in In Cold Blood separates it from current sensationalist fare. It talks to the rationality of the reader instead of imposing shock value. The motive for the crime is revealed when Perry Smith confesses to the police. It is also interesting to note the temporal shift from past to present tense indicating the chase is over.

The final part of the book, as the trial progresses, raises questions about the moral quandaries of the imposed sentence without providing any reasoned inferences. It was interesting to see the debate between rehabilitation as opposed to retribution using the nature vs nurture argument. While Capote does not allow a reader to condone the behaviour of the murderers, he goes a long way to showcase their characters in a sympathetic light.

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